Improve Your $ Habits

I want to acknowledge James Clear, it’s his image I chose as cover art – and you can learn more about his ideas at his website https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change.

I’ve been thinking a lot about habits lately, as I’ve committed to improving my communication skills through the remainder of 2017. I understand this won’t happen on its own – I need to actively work on changing my behaviors while finding ways to reward myself until I don’t have to think about what I’m doing any longer.

Another impetus for this topic is client-driven, over the last several months I’ve met with clients who have poor financial habits; and from what I’ve seen this is more common than not. Individuals and families do the best they can, but often they haven’t been given the tools to develop good habits; or they’ve identified things they want to change and try to change too much – becoming overwhelmed and giving up.

In my opinion the “easiest” habit to create is one that requires little extra thought or action on your part. For saving money, I ask people to find $25 – $50/mth, and set it aside somewhere they won’t spend it – that could be in an envelope in your underwear drawer or an online bank account w/o an ATM card; it’s more important not to touch it than where you put it.

Need motivation, tie the money to something else you’re trying to do. For example, if you’re trying to lose weight pay yourself $5 or $10 every time you decline dessert. The money will reward you for following your diet, so you’ll become more likely to stick to it. And saving the money towards something you really want will reward you for your discipline. Win Win.

You can use these same tools with your children, to help them develop healthy saving habits young. I understand some may disagree with rewards, because then you may only be doing something because of what you get – and I want to acknowledge that argument. However, my belief is if I can get someone to work up to saving $400/mth, even if they are using $100 each month to reward themselves they’ve still set aside $300 more than they were before.

This is one idea, and certainly not the Holy Grail of personal finance. There are many resources available – blogs like Paula Pant’s “Afford Anything“; “Mr. Money Mustache”, and J. Money’s “Budgets are Sexy” to name just a few; and just as many or more podcasts.

The key is not trying to change everything. Start with one thing, focus on it until it becomes second nature and then move on to the next. Having an accountability partner (and I know I’ve said this before) can be a HUGE help. Celebrate your successes, and don’t beat yourself up too hard when there are bumps in the road – it happens. What I believe you will find as time goes on is you will notice the bumps less; because your success has achieved a life of its own.

 

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Take the Long View

I’ve found it can be incredibly difficult to plan for the long term, with all the noise and distractions vying for your attention in the short term. Something always seems to come up, tempting you by its immediacy. It’s because of this I think it’s critical we have a deep understanding about the what, when and why of our long term goals.

A common example I’ve been helping people with is where they want to live when their child is older. Understandably they don’t want to move while the child is in school, because of the possible disruption it could create. However, if they are considering a move to another State they could be hurting themselves by waiting; because most, if not all, States have transitioning youth funds set aside for young adults leaving High School at 21. Waiver programs are designed to give students automatic head of the line privileges; but this will not apply to someone who moves into the State after High School – they will have to wait.

The “noise” is people with good intentions encouraging the parents to stay, reinforcing the parents’ belief it’s what’s best for the child. And it very well may be, but it should be weighed against the need for continuing services after High School. There is also fear of the unknown – how will my child react, what will the school be like, etc. It’s a lot to handle, especially if you have other children and/or are a single parent – you don’t have to do it alone; there are organizations and professionals who can help.

I’m using one example, focusing on a family who has a child with Special Needs making a move; but taking the long view is just as relevant when considering whether to buy or rent (a house), when to take social security, when to retire, etc. Take some time to yourself, away from distractions, and think about what you want and where you see yourself in 20 – 30 years. Then back into it, how are you going to get there?

Write it down – it’s not meant to be set in stone, but having a written record will help you when those crises occur and you need to make an immediate decision. In the heat of the moment it’s unreasonable to expect yourself to be able to think about the future; but you should absolutely be able to look at what you had written and use it to help ground you. You may not change your mind about what needs to be done, but you’re no longer operating purely on emotion. Practice with routine decisions, so you build the habit and muscle memory kicks in when the poop hits the fan. I’m here if you need/want help.

Living Independently

As I continue to work on enrolling my son in Social Security, and completing the necessary paperwork with the VA and DFAS (military pay system), I can’t help but wonder what he’s going to do when I’m gone – and will this all be enough. Obviously we can’t plan for every eventuality, so we do our best to address as much as possible.

When we’ve finished applying for his benefits, my next focus will be on where he will live. There are many organizations throughout the country offering Residential facilities, and with Group Homes no longer authorized it’s a safe bet these homes will not have more than (4) residents; but we’ve (my son and I) decided not to pursue this route – because he doesn’t want to have a roommate.

There are also organizations creating communities of individuals with a specific diagnosis, I believe the most common is Autism. Although I think this is an incredible opportunity for some families, for me personally it does not meet the full inclusion experience I want for my son.

So what does this leave? For us, we’re looking at purchasing a multi-family home (duplex). While I’m alive, and able, I will work with a property management company to rent out the other unit (I don’t like doing maintenance). When I’m gone, either I will have paid off the mortgage or the life insurance will settle the debt; either way ownership of the property will transfer to my son’s Special Needs Trust, and the Trustee will work with the property management company.

In my opinion, the advantage to this is the property will pay for itself after I’m gone. The Trustee will have the authority to increase rent, evict tenants, etc; and the property management company will ensure the property is well maintained. Living in the house prior to me passing will allow us to develop an understanding of what the household expenses are; which will allow me to flesh out a reasonable budget for the Trustee to follow.

If you have a child, or sibling, you’re caring for and you haven’t put any thought into where they will live after you’re gone please use this as a siren call to start planning. There is no one-size fits all solution, it really boils down to what the individual wants/is capable of and your financial situation. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will become – but it’s only too late if you pass away before you do something; because then it falls into the hands of the State. If you’re not sure what to do, reach out and ask.

The Struggle is Real

Lately I’ve been on a kick to help people motivate themselves to maintain momentum, if moving forward; or overcome inertia if they’re at a crossroads; and today I want to share a few of my current challenges and strategies.

My son turned 18 recently – leading me to start the process for his SSI, updating DFAS so he maintains eligibility for my military pension and TRICARE, and updating the VA to keep my disability payments at their current level (with a dependent). Given his disabilities I’m also applying for Guardianship. As you may be able to imagine (or perhaps can relate having been through already), this in itself can feel like a full time job.

The first challenge I’ve come across is how to help my son receive his full SSI benefit and the adult disabled child benefit (survivor benefit) from my wife. If both go to traditional savings or checking accounts, the SSI will be offset by the other benefit. So my first thought was his ABLE account, because the assets are not considered when determining SSI eligibility.

Unfortunately, his ABLE account is not equipped to receive electronic deposits – so Strike 1. No problem, I need a 1st Party Special Needs Trust anyway, for the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan; I’ll just send the adult disabled benefit there. My intent was to complete ALL the estate documents at once – 1st & 3rd party SNT’s, Guardianship, DPOA, etc – and I was on a great trajectory.

Was being the operative word. I was able to get the Physician’s letter, no problem. However, I also need a Social Worker letter – and because he’s never received services (DDA “future need”) – he hasn’t worked with a Social Worker. His teacher gave me a couple options, and although neither was viable I appreciate her time and effort. So now we’re in a sort of limbo while I figure this piece out.

Rather than let the whole process stall, I’ve decided to move forward with everything else, and finish the Guardianship as I’m able. I’m also working on engaging the DDA again, since my son is an adult and they should be able to help me with the transition from High School at age 21.

The last piece on my plate (as far as I’m aware) is following up with DORS again – getting my son employment assistance. I’ve been working on this for (2)  years, since he turned 16 – it had been my hope to have him working summers; getting used to the routines necessary to be successful post-high school. That hasn’t materialized, yet, but I will redouble my efforts towards the end of this school year.

All of this is meant only to show I understand how frustrating and time consuming it can be. And I get it can be overwhelming, especially if it’s all taken into consideration at once. The best thing I think anyone can do is pick one item and work it until the next steps are out of your control; rinse and repeat. Not sure how to prioritize, ask for help. I started a company – Special Needs Navigator – just for this purpose, and it’s my belief there are other resources like this throughout the country; although it may take some work to find them.

Don’t give up, as the image I selected shows success could be the next step you take. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop and take a breath. Help yourself, establish routines to give yourself a mental/emotional recharge – the pause and refresh will help you identify alternatives you may otherwise miss. Keep charging – you’ve got this!

Adversity – Furnace or Forge

Life can be difficult and is often unfair. I don’t think anyone would argue, and I’m willing to bet many of us have felt like throwing our hands in the air and saying “enough is enough – I quit”. The difference is what happens at this point – do you actually give up, consumed by the fires; or do you push through, overcoming the situation/circumstance with new tools and beliefs?

I’ve done both, it’s taken me many years to recognize there is always another side to adversity – it’s just how long it’s going to take you to get through. The more you do to help yourself when things are going well, the shorter (generally) the impact will last. The trick, in my opinion, is understanding (1) you’re not alone, and (2) you have more tools than you may be giving yourself credit for.

Develop habits when things are going well, so you don’t need to think about “how” to do something when life throws you a curve ball. Commit to sitting down with the most positive person you know at least twice a month, when you are at the bottom of a hole they can extend a rope; and if it’s a habit/routine they will know may be up if you miss one or two appointments.

Financially, commit to setting aside at least $25 each week in an online savings account – where you don’t have ready access. This creates the habit of spending, but it also gives you a lifeline when those “oh craps” occur. If you can afford to do more, then build up gradually to what you’re comfortable setting aside – but don’t start too big. The intent is to not notice it, so you will continue.

When bad things happen look for correlations to how you are feeling. At some point in the past you more than likely felt very similar, even if it was to a lesser degree. How did you overcome it then? Use those tools, adapting as necessary to fit your current circumstance.

Some changes cannot be undone. I will never get my wife back, nor will my son’s Autism go away. That doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, live our lives to the fullest. We’ve adapted, and so can you. Do your best to never let circumstances identify who you are. Continue to grow, seek new experiences and don’t fear failure. And as I’ve said so often before – quit trying to be a one-person show. Instead be the conductor and surround yourself with people who have achieved what you’re aiming for and have similar values and ethics.

VET TIX

VET TIX provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life. We support our troops by honoring their service and providing positive family and life experiences, during and after their years of service to our country (Retrieved from https://www.vettix.org/index.php). As a veteran I’m honored an organization has taken this unique approach to help Active Duty military and veterans; and I want to help them get their message out.

Who They Are 

VET TIX has (2) programs I’m aware of, Tickets for Troops and Hero’s Wish.

Tickets for Troops uses partnerships with major sports teams, organizations and event ticket holders to give active duty military and honorably discharged veterans free and discounted tickets. Military personnel, especially junior enlisted, do not make very much money – this is an amazing opportunity for our service members.

Hero’s Wish aims to ease the burden on families who have lost a loved one (KIA), been injured (WIA) or is currently deployed; by providing a once in a lifetime expense at an event. Their services are available to active duty personnel in a 6 month before/after deployment, severely wounded, or families of those killed in action. They provide a list of current hero’s wishes here.

What They Do 

VET TIX’s website has a link for veterans to create an account – where you will identify the type (active duty, retired, etc). From there they will verify the information, because they want to ensure veterans, and their families, are the ones being served. The applicants will let VET TIX know what event they would like to attend, and from there VET TIX works to secure tickets. The attendees will pay a small fee, much less than the full cost if they were to buy it themselves, to receive their tickets.

What Else Should I Know

 

Two of the three founders served in the military, and the third’s father had served – so all three are familiar with the sacrifices service members and their families experience. Their Core Values of Patriotism, Support & Recognition, Quality of Life and Family really resonated with me – and as I learned more about VET TIX it became clearer and clearer that they are the “real deal”.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Vet TIX and any errors noted are my own. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

Make Inertia Work For You

I chose the image for this blog because I think it’s what most people think of when they hear the word “inertia”. Sadly, this is only half the story. Inertia means something is going to maintain its current state until acted upon by an outside force. So yes – if the object is at rest, it will remain at rest. BUT, and this is IMPORTANT, it also means if an object is in motion it will remain in motion.

I’m passionate about helping people become successful, and often the first step is overcoming their current state of inertia. When you’re not doing something it becomes much easier to identify ALL the reasons not to change – it’s the wrong time, it will cost too much, etc. Let’s assume all of these are valid concerns; when are they going to change? The truth is most of them will not. The universe isn’t going to line up the stars, moons & planets for your convenience; and products/services are going to continue rising in cost (or fade away).

So instead of focusing on reasons not to do something, identify WHY you want to make the change. Something had to drive you to this point, and if it’s truly important to you do take action – any action, no matter how small.

Taking action overcomes your current state of inertia – it’s the force necessary to start momentum in a different direction. The longer you’ve been in your current mode, the more effort you are going to need to exert to enact the change. Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away; things take time.

Think of any changes you’ve made recently – be it weight loss, changing jobs, or going back to school (to list a few examples). When you first started it probably sucked, it was uncomfortable and you had to get into a new routine. Eventually you stopped noticing, and it just became a habit; inertia has set in.

Understanding this is important, because you can use it to help yourself become more successful. Let’s use networking for example, because I think most (if not all) of us need to network to some degree; and many of us have an immense dislike for it. Start by introducing yourself to at least one new person everyday, and make small talk. As you become more comfortable with this expand it; get to know everyone in your company – not just those you interact with every day. Before you know it, it will have become second nature and you’re on your way to mastering a new skill which (in my opinion) will go a long way to aiding your success.

Inertia is difficult to overcome, so don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Use an accountability partner, someone who will call you on your excuses and offer encouragement. They will also help you maintain perspective, because it’s often difficult to notice change within yourself – especially when it’s occurring gradually.

So what are you waiting for? September is just around the corner, let’s end 2017 with a BANG. Pick one thing you’ve been “meaning to do”; find yourself an accountability partner (friend, trusted advisor, family, etc); and put inertia to work. Let’s get your constant velocity angled upwards – 2018 look out, because here we come!